Gatlin Brothers, headed to Pigeon Forge, love the old country sound

Jun. 30, 2013 @ 02:25 PM

Rudy Gatlin has mixed feelings about today’s country music.

“There are some great groups singing great harmonies,” he said on the phone from Dallas. “Lady Antebellum, the Band Perry. I love that pop-rock. I love it for what it is. But I don’t know whether it fits on country radio. It’s not country. It’s pop.”

What’s missing?

“Digital has made everyone sound really great,” he said. “But when you go and listen to the lyric, you kind of go ... what? Huh?”

Gatlin knows good lyrics. In the 1970s and 1980s, his group, the Gatlin Brothers, charted a long string of hit singles on the strength of his brother Larry’s literate songwriting.

The Gatlin Brothers play Pigeon Forge’s Patriot Festival on Thursday night, July 4 at Patriot Park.

The Gatlins’ 1975 breakthrough hit, “Broken Lady,” features mournful lyrics that read like an essay: “Her love was like a fortress around a man she would have died for, taking care to take care of all he needed, but the lady’s fortress slowly turned into a prison, and the warning signs he gave, she never heeded.”

“We knew that was going to be special,” Rudy said of “Broken Lady.” “We always tried to make great-sounding records that accentuated the vocals and the lyrics.”

Then there is the Gatlins’ signature song, the 1979 smash “All the Gold in California.” Its brooding lyrics are unusually philosophical for a number-one country hit.

“It has more content, more meaning than my dadgum tractor,” Gatlin said. “I drive a tractor, but I never thought to write a song about it.”

Gatlin plays rhythm guitar with the Gatlin Brothers, and together with Larry and brother Steve, he sings the glorious family harmonies that are the group’s trademark. The Gatlins grew up singing in Odessa, Texas. Then Nashville beckoned. One of country’s most successful groups, they have garnered numerous honors, including the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award they received from the Academy of Country Music in 2011.

Since 1976, they have been members of the Grand Ole Opry. “That’s the mother church,” Rudy said. “Golly, just think about it. To be asked to join that esteemed body of artists.”

When he is not working with the Gatlin Brothers, Gatlin performs as a solo artist, playing gospel shows as well as gigs with his Dallas All Star Review Band. He also plays charity golf and does speaking engagements.

The Gatlin Brothers’ Pigeon Forge concert is one of several outdoor shows they will perform this year. They also will play casino shows in Nevada and New Mexico, and they have numerous dates booked at the Starlite Theatre in Branson, Mo.

What does it mean to Rudy that he is performing here on July 4?

“Every day is July 4,” he said. “I’m a proud American. I love my country. We support our troops, our president, the people in leadership. I don’t agree with them a lot of times, and that’s all right.”

The United States is the greatest country in the world, Gatlin said. “I’m a flag waver,” he noted. “I marvel at the sacrifice the older generations made so we could enjoy this freedom. We’re the shining beacon on the hill.”

kburns@themountainpress.com